Taliban rule Pakistan’s ‘valley of death’

Click map for full view. Taliban presence, by district and tribal agency, the Northwest Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies. Information on Taliban presence obtained from open source and derived by The Long War Journal based on the presence of Taliban shadow governments, levels of fighting, and reports from the region. Map created by Bill Raymond for The Long War Journal.

The Pakistani government has promised to restore its writ in the Taliban-controlled settled district of Swat in the insurgency-infested Northwest Frontier Province.

Swat, once renowned as Pakistan’s vacation paradise and described as the Switzerland of South Asia, is now referred to as the “valley of death” by the fearful Pakistanis still living there. The district has become the model Taliban police state. The Taliban have full control of the district and have implemented their austere version of sharia, or Islamic law.

The Taliban consolidated control in Swat over the past several months after nearly two years of fighting. Led by Mullah Fazlullah, the Taliban have defeated the Army, destroyed the police force, established a shadow government, and imposed sharia.

The government has lost complete control of the district, according to reports from the region. The government controls the main town of Mingora but has no presence outside. And inside Mingora, the Taliban have cowed the population.

Mingora’s central square, know as the Green Chowk, has been renamed the slaughter Chowk, as the Taliban routinely dumps bodies there and occasionally conducts public executions. In December, the Taliban deposited 27 bodies in the square and ordered the residents not to move them. Taliban snipers routinely fire in the town, forcing residents to remain indoors.

Despite the deployment of four brigades of regular Army and Frontier Corps troops in Swat, the Taliban have overwhelmed the government’s efforts to restore order. Security forces are confined to their camps and are routinely attacked by roadside bombs and suicide bombers when patroling. The Pakistani military, which is known to downplay its own casualties, said 142 soldiers and paramilitary troops have been killed since August of 2008, making the Swat insurgency far more dangerous than the conflicts in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Fazlullah, confident in his victory, offered “conditional amnesty for social and political workers and public representatives from target[ed] killings” if they promised to halt opposition rule. The offer was made on Fazlullah’s illegal radio station. Members of the provincial and national assemblies have been excluded from the amnesty.

The Swat Taliban have conducted a wave of targeted assassinations against police officers, tribal leaders, and politicians. Family members of government officials and tribal leaders have been killed, and their homes have been torched.

The police have been hit so hard that the force has been rendered ineffective. More than 800 policemen, almost half of the force, have deserted their posts or taken extended leaves to avoid the Taliban attacks.

Police and government officials live in fear of being targeted, and many have taken out public advertisements or carry letters to announce their resignations.

Those who have dared to resist the Taliban have been brutally murdered and made an example of to others. An influential tribal leader named Pir Samiullah was murdered last fall and his corpse was desecrated after he organized his tribe to fight against the Taliban.

The Taliban laid siege to Samiullah’s compound, killed or kidnapped the senior tribal leaders, and crushed the local opposition. Samiullah was among those killed. After he was buried, the Taliban returned, dug up his body and hanged it in public. Members of his tribe were not to touch Samiullah’s body, and they didn’t.

Samiullah’s tribe had been the showcase for Pakistan’s “awakening,” the indigenous tribal uprising against the Taliban modeled after Iraq’s Sunni resistance to al Qaeda and allied jihadi groups. Since Samiullah’s murder, the Swat tribes have not dared to resist the Taliban. Other such movements have faltered in the greater Northwest Frontier Province.

With the military victory virtually completed, the Taliban have imposed sharia on the people of Swat. Women have been banned from shopping in bazaars and are forced to completely cover themselves. Men have been ordered to grow beards or face punishment, while barbers have been ordered not to shave beards. Faith healers, music and video store owners, dancers, musicians, and others whose professions are deemed un-Islamic have shut down their businesses. Those who fail to obey sharia are beaten or murdered, often in public.

Children’s schools have been hit particularly hard. On Jan. 15, the Taliban ordered all girls schools closed, and threatened to destroy any that remained open. The schools have been closed. Yet the Taliban have destroyed eight schools, including boys’ schools, since the edict was issued. Over the past year, more than 200 schools have been destroyed.

The Taliban takeover of Swat has led to a mass exodus of residents. More than 300,000 of Swat’s estimated 1.5 million people have fled the district and more are expected to leave. The people of Swat fear the Taliban, and have lost faith in the government and the military. Residents claim the military will not fight the Taliban and often use indiscriminate force during fighting, resulting in civilian deaths.

Federal government promises to restore control

The Taliban takeover of Swat has proven to be a source of embarrassment for the Pakistani government of President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousef Gilani. While the Taliban have quietly taken control of nine of the 24 districts in the Northwest Frontier Province and six of seven of the tribal agencies, the fall of Swat has garnered international attention. In a briefing to Parliament last fall, a senior Pakistani general, unable to hide the dire situation, admitted Swat, Shangla, and “other districts” are under Taliban control.

This week, the government claimed it would restore its writ in Swat by the beginning of February. Interior Adviser Rehman Malik threatened to “launch a massive offensive” in Swat if the Taliban did not lay down its arms.

“Pakistan will not be allowed to become a Taliban state,” Malik said. “The situations in Swat will improve in two weeks.”

But the government and military have made similar promises since efforts to clear the Taliban in Swat and neighboring Shangla began in November 2007. After launching and offensive in November 2007, the military claimed it would clear the Taliban from Swat by mid-December 2007.

After a half year of brutal fighting, the government negotiated a peace accord with Fazlullah in May 2008. Fighting restarted in July 2008. The government said the operation would be completed by September of 2008, yet six months later Swat is in the hands of the Taliban.


Swat’s burning questionsThe News

State within state: Things are going from bad to worse in Swat where the militants are running a parallel governmentThe News

Living under duress: Swat residents subjected to many ‘dos and don’ts’Daily Times

Desperate moves on to secure Swat – the lost valleyDawn

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.



  • bill longley says:

    He has for gotten that Hazrat Aysha, the wife of Prophet[PBUH] use to give lectures in Mosque of Prophet[PBUH] in Madina…and Hazrat Khola and Hazrat Hafza and other Sahabiaat fought along side with Muslims …

  • JusCruzn says:

    Both the Taliban and Al Qaeda were both born and conceived of in Pakistan. Guess that old saying about reaping what you sow is pretty true.

  • Micah Shapiro says:

    Sure Buner district is actually “controlled” by Taliban? I was in both Buner and Swat right around the time of the small scale Buner uprising. I just find it hard to believe Taliban control that area. Also, do the Taliban really control all of Swat, or just the main populated areas? I have been told by my Pashto friends who live in Buner and travel to Swat a lot that its not quite exactly the way its written. Can we get a real perspective of what this Taliban “gov” really seems like at the street level?

  • I think we are reaching a tipping point here, and fast. The most interesting quote in the post was, “Pakistan will not be allowed to become a Taliban state,’ Malik said.” Seems to me the Pakistani Government is now going to have to put their money where their mouth is. Pakistan is going to have to put their troops, resources, and effort into this battle very quickly or else the rest of the world will start thinking that the central government has lost control of the country. There is still no action on the part of the Pakistani government to arrest, let alone execute, the people behind the Mumbai attack and I’m sure that is not sitting well with India. I’m actually amazed that the Indians have been this patient (I sincerely doubt the US would have been this understanding if the attack happened on our soil). But if the rest of the world thinks that a nuclear power is starting to lose control of its own country, then all sorts of horrible things could start happening, like an all-out assault by the Taliban to take total control of Pakistan or a full-blown war with India. I doubt India would like to have a nuclear-armed government controlled by the Taliban on its border, so the Pakistani government must do something concrete soon to stop this or else the situation in that part of the world is going to start deteriorating rapidly.

  • AK says:

    @ saaq. I went to swat valley over 6 months ago and the so called ‘taliban’ have an ideology so skewed and warped that it is loosely related to any sort of Islam – orthodox or otherwise. While I was in the valley, there was, on average, a murder every week. The people being murdered were people with respectable jobs who the public might look up to. By getting rid of people of these people strike fear into the populace.
    The pakistani government doesn’t seem to be trying, though. In my time in the valley, I didn’t see one patrol. The soldiers spend most of their time behind sand bags. In my opinion, the pakistani government is dragging out this war to milk America dry of the donations they offer the government for taking on the taliban. There’s no doubt about Zardari’s corruption. I reckon that the Pakistani army could easily win this war themselves if they wanted. Their scorched earth tactics are too sloppy to be believed.
    Brilliant article. It describes the atmosphere in the region perfectly.

  • AK says:

    Oh, I wouldn’t worry about the taliban taking over the government. They can only really cause deaths by cheap, but well placed attacks.
    They could never stand toe to toe with Pakistani forces towards the southern lands and hope to escape with anything less than raw beating!

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 01/23/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  • tracy says:

    I thought they were called extremist because they kill people who do not conform with their version of Islam.

  • Neo says:

    I appreciate the nice new map you’re using. The labels on area’s and major villages are much clearer.
    Anyone who wants to Google Earth the village of Khar, Bajaur should use the coordinates 34 44.05 N by 71 31.30 E. Not much is labeled for Bajaur Agency in Google Earth. The central valley is in high resolution though.
    A problem I run into with when looking up villages in the tribal areas is matching place names. The English language newspapers in Pakistan tend to use fairly standardized spellings, but whoever labeled western Pakistan on Google Earth must have been using an out of date map with non-standard spelling. Labels on old topo maps can be pretty tough to match also.

  • Marlin says:

    If the first step to correcting a problem is to admit that you have one, then maybe very small positive steps are being taken in Pakistan.

    The NWFP government has lost its writ in the volatile Swat valley, the ruling ANP admitted in the Senate on Monday. ANP senators Haji Adeel and Ilyas Bilour said the insurgency was spilling over to the rest of the country and would “reach Islamabad sooner than Lahore”

  • Anaxarete says:

    I have friends in Swat. I hope for the sake of them and every other innocent there that one day the Taliban are destoyed. Curse them.

  • Muhammad Abid says:

    The BBC reproduced a similar article in May with a similar map of Taliban’s growing rule in Pakistan’s troubled Frontier provice under the hedline of “the March of Taliban”. But the BBC did not acknowledge your contributions that you made in January this year. Did the BBC carry out its indepedent survey?


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